For the past 50 years, New York City’s rock clubs have been the barometer of both what was happening and what was going to be happening in music. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Velvet Underground were just a few of the budding music artists one could catch at a small downtown club or coffee house. By the mid to late 1970s, the New York club circuit groomed Billy Joel, Kiss, Steely Dan, Chic, Madonna, Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Pat Benatar, the New York Dolls and dozens more. The 1980s saw local bands like Anthrax, the Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C. and White Zombie working their chops locally before going global. Before the century ended, local bands like Interpol, The Strokes, Gogol Bordello, and Taking Back Sunday were getting ready to dominate the early 21st century. Since then we have seen Lady Gaga, LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs among others turn from club artists into arena headliners.

Who will be the next New York superstar? No one knows. Chances are that person or group is working the club circuit right now. Yet for every success, there are hundreds of local bands that will never reach a large audience but nevertheless make for a great concert. At the beginning of each year, the Aquarian Weekly looks back to see who were the most fun bar bands of the previous year. The prerequisite for being on these lists is that the artists must be New York-based and they must play original music regularly in the local club circuit throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the bands named in 2014 and 2015 are still very much worth catching.


The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2015

Burlap To Cashmere

Har Mar Superstar

Jesse Malin


The Lone Bellow

Popa Chubby

Reagan Youth

Reserved For Rondee

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds

Ten Ton Mojo


The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2014

The Brain Cloud

Danny’s Devil’s Blues

The Dirty Pearls

Harmonica Lewinskis

The Hipp Pipps

Joe Taino

Living Colour

Rebecca Haviland & Whiskey Heart

The So So Glos

The Waldos


The Top 10 NYC Acts To Catch In 2016

The criteria for this list was that the artists had to be based in the New York area, play original music and work the local club circuit regularly throughout the year. The artists are listed in alphabetical order.


Autre Ne Veut (rhythm & blues)

Arthur Ashin croons from the gut and makes you feel his pain in a strange form of catharsis. Autre Ne Veut performs at the Bowery Ballroom and Pianos.


The Cynz (rock)

Cyndi Dawson is a poet turned rocker and Henry Seiz plays stinging rock and roll party songs. The Cynz play at Otto’s Shrunken Head and Sidewalk.


Dina Regine (rock)

Dina Regine is a celebrated photographer, disc jockey and classic rock-styled singer that you invite to only the coolest parties. Dina Regine plays at the Bowery Electric and Sidewalk.


Ian Mellencamp (experimental)

The nephew of John Mellencamp, Ian Mellencamp moved to Brooklyn and noodled with experimental sounds until he found the right mix of avant garde and accessible songs. Ian Mellencamp plays at the Bowery Electric and the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel.


The Love Pirates (rock)

British guitarist/vocalist Gass Wild was in The Pretenders for a bit, but he is rocking like he is in The Rolling Stones. The Love Pirates play at The Delancey, Otto’s Shrunken Head and Sidewalk.


Madball (hardcore punk)

This spin-off of Agnostic Front began in the 1980s, seemed to disappear, and started working the clubs again this past year. Madball play at the Marlin Room and Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom.


New York Junk (rock)

Several survivors of 1970s glam bands have combined forces for music that in good for the head and for the hips. New York Junk play at the Bowery Electric and the Map Room.


Oz Noy (jazz)

Noy is an Israeli guitarist who regularly attracts some of New York’s finest musicians to jam with him on jazz and funk tunes. Oz Noy plays at The Bitter End and the 55 Bar.


Red Baraat (bhangra)

One does not have to know anything about world music to groove along with this blend of hard driving North Indian Bhangra with elements of go-go, rock and jazz. Red Baraat plays at le Poisson Rouge and Subrosa.


Ricky Byrd & Deuces Wild (blues)

The former lead guitarist for Joan Jett & The Blackhearts pays tribute to British blues rock from the 1970s with original songs and old blues tunes. Ricky Byrd & Deuces Wild play at the Bowery Electric and Sidewalk.


20 More Must-See NYC Acts In 2016

Angela McCluskey & Paul Cantelon (cabaret)

The Black Cats NYC (rock)

The Bloodshots (rockabilly)

Candiria (metal/punk)

Crazy Mary (rock)

Diane Gentile (folk)

Ed Rogers (singer-songwriter)

Ellis Ashbrook (psychedelic)

The Hot Sardines (swing)

Les Sans Culottes (rock)

The Liza Colby Sound (rock)

Mutoid Man (metal)

Puma Perl & Friends (experimental)

Red Gretchen (garage)

Show Me The Body (punk)

The Slim Kings (blues)

Steve Conte (rock)

Syd Straw (folk)

The TarantinosNYC (surf)

Unlocking The Truth (metal)

3 Responses

  1. Lonna Weiss

    You left out the Alan Merrill Band who do lots of shows in NYC in recent years and actually play hits from the 70s that he had as lead singer of The Arrows (“I Love Rock N Roll” “Touch Too Much” “My Last Night With You”) and hit songs from his Japanese band Vodka Collins. He does both acoustic and electric shows with his band. None of the other bands you list have any hit records at all to play. An odd omission from this list.

  2. Joseph Tomasello

    I’d like to mention that the Love Pirates, The Cynz, Red Gretchen, New York Junk, The Hipps and The Black Cats NYC all write and play their own material and produce and Promote their own recordings.


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